Courtesy David BesaJust in time for Valentine's Day, a new book outlines the aphrodisiac properties of different fruits and vegetables. Author Helen Yoest shares insights from her book Plants with Benefits in this interview. After reading this, head to the nearest produce section and select just the right ingredients to make a memorable Valentine's Day.
Courtesy NASAThe headline says it all. One Alan Poindexter, a NASA commander, says that the most intimate of relations* is not allowed on the International Space Station. So if you ever wondered how that works, you can stop.
*I'm not referring to two-player Battletoads. But that isn't allowed on the ISS either.
Courtesy BaylorBear78My psychological jargon might be a little mixed up, but Freud was the one who would deteriorate into fits of frightened giggling at any mention of sex organs, right? If so, this research is totally Freudian.
(I’m pretty sure Freud died of an aneurysm while watching a butcher make sausage links. So yeah, kids, I think you’re safe using this as a resource for your 10th grade psych class.)
Here’s the rub, as it were: duck penises are off the hook! And not just duck penises, duck vaginas too! Despite the questionable wardrobe choices of certain popular cartoon characters, I’ve never seen a duck’s penis. But I suppose that the hunters and duck enthusiasts among you might already know that ducks, unlike most birds, have penises, and that said penises are about 8 inches long and remarkably flexible. The reason we aren’t constantly being assaulted by the sight of duck genitals is that they usually keep the organs tucked inside their bodies. When the need arises, the appendages can be extended, or "everted," in less than a second, an act described (not by me) as “explosive.”
Here’s some footage of it happening. Be warned, though—it’s not for the more sensitive among you.
But, okay, so duck penises are crazy. What about the rest?
Well, ducks have crazy penises because it gives them an advantage in “forced mating.” But if male ducks could evolve a feature that increases their chances of a successful forced mating, mused some researchers at Yale, couldn’t female ducks evolve penis-confounding features that would protect them from unwanted attempts at mating?
Duck penises, it turns out, are somewhat corkscrew-shaped. The researchers tested their ability to evert into a set of glass tubes of varying shapes. They found that eversion was quickly and easily done in straight tubes, and tubes that spiraled counter-clockwise. A tube spiraled clockwise, however, or one with a sharp bend in it, could stop eversion altogether. It turns out that duck vaginas have evolved structures like the second set of glass tubes, with the purpose of thwarting wandering duck penises.
How strange. Apparently it’s one of the rare occasions when the evolutionary consequences of the battle of the sexes are so “dramatic.” Dramatic and bizarre.
Now pick yourself up and continue on with your day. That wasn’t so bad, was it? And now you have something to talk about at your family holiday party!
Courtesy coteIt’s a weird suggestion, I know, because you probably give a lot of thought to whom the various cavemen had sex with anyway, regardless of the weather. But give it a little extra thought today. Because it’s nice out, and the dark corners of your brain could use the sunlight.
So, you guys all know that we aren’t the only human species ever to exist, right? The human family tree had other branches before it got to us (take a look at our Human Spark feature for more on that), and there were times when more than one species lived in the same area, and—in all probability—had interactions with each other. Neanderthals, for instance, lived alongside modern humans for many thousands of years in ice age Europe. Keep in mind, “Neanderthal” isn’t just a synonym for “cave-man.” Neanderthals were a distinct species—they had heavier, longer skulls, and thick, strong bodies. The modern humans of ice age Europe would have looked, more or less, like us. And because the two species were living in the same area for so long, it seems pretty likely that they interacted. But did those interactions include, you know, dinner, dancing, and romantic music?
On one hand, these are sort of fightin’ words. People have suggested that Neanderthals faded into extinction as they interbred with modern humans, but when human DNA was compared with a sequence of Neanderthal DNA, it didn’t look like there was any overlap. That is, if there was any interbreeding, the Neanderthal contributions to our genes have been so diluted with human genes that it doesn’t appear that we have any Neanderthals in our family at all.
On the other hand… Well… I mean… People do all sorts of stuff… We all just want someone to love, right? Or, you know, just think of what a puppy will do to a piece of furniture. And humans and Neanderthals are a lot more similar to each other than puppies and ottomans. Too much? I don’t think so. Look at ligers. Or tigons. Or mules. Similar animals interbreed all the time, but very often they have infertile offspring. And that would explain why we don’t see any Neanderthal genes around today—everybody could have been doing it like it was 2012, but if the offspring couldn’t reproduce it wouldn’t matter to future generations.
Another factor that could explain the lack of genetic overlap (despite Paabo’s certainty of caveman/Neanderthal sexiness) is that our Neanderthal DNA sample just isn’t good enough. Mitochondrial DNA from Neanderthals doesn’t show up in modern humans, and while that’s an incredibly valuable genetic marker, it only makes up a tiny fraction of an organism’s total DNA. The Neanderthal genome hasn’t been completely sequenced yet, and that’s what Paabo means to do. Once we can fully compare the genomes, we can see if the two species became at all mixed.
Because they were definitely doing it.
In the Spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. Or so Tennyson wrote. Here at Science Buzz, we don’t truck with none o’ that mushy stuff. If you can’t measure it with real, live numbers, then heck, it may as well not exist.
So, in our endless quest to serve you better, we round up the latest findings from Doctor Love:
(Wait a minute – didn’t we do this one before?)
Women like men with a sense of humor. Why, they trampling over Tom Selleck to get to Buddy Hackett!*
And, in the one finding that wasn't screamingly obvious,
When you’re drunk, people do not look more attractive to you. Which seems only fair – when you’re drunk, you don’t look particularly attractive yourself. No offense.
* I heard a stand-up comic deliver that line some 20 years ago. Hence the dated reference. But when you’re right, you’re right.
"Female Gouldian finches 'decide' to have more male chicks if they are less compatible with their mate.
The birds, which have either red or black heads, prefer to mate with males with the same head colouring, as this signifies a better genetic match.
Chicks from a mismatched mating - particularly the females - are weaker and more likely to die very early.
A report in the journal Science says that the birds compensate for this by having more male chicks in their brood.
Join the ongoing discussion about whether or not humans should use technology to select the sex of offspring when a genetic roll of the dice is a risky proposition.
Courtesy aussiegallTo quote the wise and indomitable Tyra Banks: “Hey y’all!”
It’s Friday (I think) and relationships still exist (that’s what I hear) so it’s time again for everybody’s favorite Friday Science Buzz feature: The Friday Relationship Extravaganza!
This week’s relationship feature promises to be especially… extravagasmic, because today we’re pairing it up with some good old fashioned random questions.
See, on Thursday night, all the Buzz blog features went out for drinks after work. Random Questions promised itself that it would just have two drinks, but you know how that sort of thing goes… Pretty soon the ginger ale was flowing, and next thing you know Random Questions is waking up in Extravaganza’s bed.
But don’t even worry about it. Nothing happened. Extravaganza slept on the couch. Still, these are work friends, not friend friends, and they had to talk about something when they got to the office. And so…
Friday Relationship Extravaganza: Random Questions Edition
So paddle around with me in the HMS Puddleduck, won’t you?
Question: Why do praying mantis females eat their mates?
Answer: Hmm… This is a hard one. If relationships weren’t tricky enough, relationships that involve cannibalism are particularly troublesome. I mean, look at Jeffrey Dahmer.
It’s also difficult to answer because it seems like scientists are sure exactly why mantises behave this way. Originally it was thought that female mantises bit off their mates’ heads because removing the head caused the male to start, er, mating like crazy (and why not, I guess.) Plus, the lady mantis gets a snack.
Then, some scientists pointed out that this behavior could be influenced by the fact that the mantises were being watched—whether in the field or in a laboratory, the bright lights and steamy glasses of sweaty-palmed scientists might be a little distracting and stressful for mantis lovers, and could cause them to behave a little irrationally.
Other scientists then observed that if a female were fed before mating, she would be less likely to snap at her mate (as it were). With the threat of having his head bitten off lessened, a male mantis will sometimes even engage in elaborate courtship behavior (and why not, I guess.)
Recently, researchers have determined that male mantises, in fact, don’t like getting eaten, and will approach a female with tremendous caution and attempt to couple from a greater distance to avoid it.
So, what are we left with? Removing a mating male’s head can increase that male’s chance of successfully reproducing (because of the mating like crazy thing). But not getting killed on a lucky date can also increase a male’s chance of reproducing (because he can maybe go on to have more dates with other females). And being watched my scientists while having sex can be stressful. And being hungry while having sex can lead lady mantises to do things they might later regret.
Is that close enough to a real answer?
Question: (This question card is actually two questions. “Why can’t boys have babies?” was written first, and then scratched out. A more logical rephrasing of the question follows: “How long would it take to grow a boyfriend?” Because I’m the acting commander of the HMS Puddleduck, choosing which question to answer is my prerogative. So I will answer both. This is an extravaganza, after all.)
Why can’t boys have babies?
Answer: Well… I can see why you decided to re-write this question. Because, of course, boys can have babies. If I were to see a baby sitting on the street, and if I were to take that baby, guess what? I’d technically have a baby. (And don’t get all sassy about how I shouldn’t go around just taking babies willy-nilly. Would you rather I left that baby sitting in the street?)
Also, according to the research presented in Junior, men can make their own babies, no problem. But until that technology is released to fertility clinics, boys can’t have babies because… well, just because. That’s how things worked out.
We have evolved to use internal fertilization—that is, we don’t just release eggs and sperm into the ocean in the hopes that they’ll mix around on their own. And thank God, because where would the Relationship Extravaganza be if we all acted like fish and amphibians? No place good.
And so, I don’t know… one of the two sexes got stuck with carrying fertilized eggs/babies around, and it’s usually the female (Seahorses are an interesting counterexample, however). And, at this point, human males couldn’t really do it, because we haven’t got the equipment. I mean, the underwhelming birth canal is really the least of the issues here (and that’s saying something.)
Sorry if I’m being vague on this answer, but I think it might be a good question for our current Scientist on the Spot, PZ Myers. I think this question comes down to evolution, and why it makes sense for just one sex to carry developing offspring. PZ is the expert on evolution, so click on these pink words and see if he has any thoughts on the subject.
How long would it take to grow a boyfriend?
Answer: I guess it depends on how you like your boyfriends. If you like your men young, I’d say you could have a boyfriend ready in about nine months. If you want some kind of loving, responsible and mature boyfriend, you might have to wait… what, about 35 years? Yeah, that sounds about right.
Then again, “accelerated aging” seems to be a staple of all cloning-related sci-fi, so maybe we should look into that…
When a mad scientist makes my perfect double to replace me after I get kidnapped, accelerated aging techniques will be essential to ensuring that the clone and I are indistinguishable. After all, a regular (non-mad) scientist might be able to clone me now, but the clone would be a baby, and it wouldn’t be a very convincing replacement. (I pee my pants so rarely these days, it’s hardly worth brining up.)
However, it seems like accelerated aging might be an unintended consequence of some cloning techniques already, and doesn’t even require special tanks and serums. When Dolly the sheep was cloned, scientists found that she suffered from arthritis and lung disease at a relatively young age, leading them to believe that she was prematurely aging. One thought is that Dolly’s telomeres were too short. Telomeres are pieces of DNA at the ends of chromosomes, and their deterioration is responsible for aging. Telomeres prevent chromosomes from accidentally combining with each other. If the chromosomes were to combine with each other, it could result in the cell becoming cancerous, so when a telomere runs out or wears down, the cell is usually destroyed. The shortening of telomeres puts a limit on the number of times a cell can divide, and when cells don’t divide anymore, you start to age. They aren’t sure exactly what caused Dolly’s telomeres to be short (if that was indeed the cause of her rapid aging).
But that’s sort of the downhill part of aging—if you were to clone or genetically engineer your perfect boyfriend, and somehow shorten his telomeres (if it didn’t happen automatically from the cloning) you’d probably end up with some sort of odd Benjamin Button situation, and that might not be what you want.
To even things out, you might have to affect the pituitary gland in some way. The pituitary controls hormones that cause growth, and disorders with the pituitary gland can sometimes cause kids to grow very large very quickly. Many of the world’s tallest people have had pituitary disorders.
I’m thinking that you’d still need eight or nine years to balance out the pituitary and telomere stuff in your grown boyfriend. And he might not thank you for it.
And there we are! Another heartwarming Relationship Extravaganza, spiced with random questions. But the Puddleduck must be off—I still have a stack of questions here that require answers from the far off reaches of knowledge. And several of them have swearwords in them that I have to rephrase, which isn’t easy, if you want to keep the spirit of the original question. (And I do.)
Courtesy steev-oIt’s Friday (T.G.I.F.), Buzzketeers, and you all know what that means. That’s right, it’s time for the Science Buzz Friday Relationship Extravaganza! (S.B.F.R.E.)
I know how much y’all like relationships, and how much you like talking about them, so it’s only natural that you clicked on the S.B.F.R.E. so quickly. But that’s not all! See, here at the S.B.F.R.E., “relationship” is also a code word for… S-E-X! Oh, naughtiest of naughties! It’s a red-letter day! Relationships and S-E-X-ual science… y’all had better sit down.
Seriously, sit down. Make yourselves comfortable. Now, I want y’all to know that this is a safe space, and we should be free to say whatever we’re feeling. Good, good… I think we’re about ready to start.
So… I understand that you feel like he has some real problems in communicating his feelings?
Why do you think that is?
No, I’m sorry, let’s let him finish—we’ll all have a chance to talk, and it’s his turn right now.
OK. I think I see what you’re saying. How do you want him to communicate? What do you wish he would say to you?
And how does that make you feel? Is that something you can do? OK… Why do you think you’re not being listened to?
Well, let’s look at it this way: at least y’all aren’t anglerfish. You know anglerfish, right, Buzzketeers? Anglerfish include those awful deep sea fish, with the big eyes, and teeth all over the place, and a glowing spike sticking out of their awful, lumpy heads. You know what I’m talking about. You saw those pictures, and then learned that they were only a few inches long, but were still kind of grossed out. And maybe some holier-than-thou biologist type pointed out to you that they weren’t gross, they were just fish that had made some spectacular adaptations to their environment, and were just living their lives like every other animal.
Well, don’t worry, you were right in the first place: angler fish really are awful and gross.
See, when they first discovered these creepy anglerfish, scientists were only finding female specimens. No males at all. So where’s the relationship relationship?
Well, eventually they did find some males, and some remarkable observations were made. The male anglerfish were pretty normal in their youth, but once they reached sexual maturity, their digestive systems degenerate. So they are unable to feed themselves. Naturally, what a mature male needs to do at that point is find a sugar momma. And fast (because, again, they’re starving to death). When the male tracks down a female anglerfish, he bites her, latching on to her body with his teeth. Enzymes in the male then break down its own mouth, as well as the female’s body, so that the two fish fuse together, to the point where they even share blood vessels. A source of sustenance now secured, the male kind of “lets itself go,” if you will. But instead of gaining weight and watching too much TV, the body of the male anglerfish, still fused with the female, degenerates, eventually becoming just a pair of gonads that hang off the female. When the first female anglerfish were discovered, scientists thought that they had parasites hanging off of them. Nope. Those were the remains of male anglerfish.
When the female is ready to release eggs, the gonads sense the change in hormone levels in the blood that still flows to them, and they release sperm, so that the eggs can be fertilized, and more horrible anglerfish can be created.
I don’t know who has it worse here—the female that has to nourish a pair of parasitic testicles (or multiple pairs), or the male, who has to latch on to a female to survive, and then becomes a pair of parasitic testicles. Either way, though, I think you’ll agree that your own messed up relationship seems pretty ideal right now, doesn’t it?
So remember, until the next Science Buzz Friday Relationship Extravaganza, keep your emotions bottled up, and if you’re ever feeling bummed out about things, just think of the never-lonely anglerfish.
Courtesy FireFawkesThe journal Sexual Health has blown minds the world over with a new study’s assertion that, of all students, science students have the least sex. And male science students? They have the least sex of all, ranking neck and neck with amoeba.
Do you know who the study says has the most sex? Female art students. But I’ve never pretended to understand art kids, so we’ll leave that be and get back to our poor science nerds.
What gives? Is it the chicken or the egg? (The chicken being people who don’t often have sex, the egg being the study of science. Duh.) Does deciding to study science equate to putting on an invisible chastity belt? Is it (if we’re talking about chickens) a persistent rooster-block, if you will? Or are people for whom sex is not a huge priority, or even something to be avoided, attracted to the study of science?
The answer, according to the study, is “yes.”
The research was performed at the University of Sydney in Australia. The science department at the university has a high proportion of international students, who may have different cultural attitudes towards sex than those hedonistic, liberal arts, Australian-born students. Also, as we have discussed on Buzz, girls are often less attracted to studying math and science than boys, and boys, according to the psychotherapist quoted in the article, start having sex later than girls.
The demands of studying science, likewise, aren’t helping things. Students are kept out of environments where they would meet women, and spend most of their time “carrying on doing experiments, going to the library, and doing their assignments.”
A horde of very busy introverts—it’s the perfect storm. But don’t let this dissuade you from studying science, Buzzketeers—maybe this is just the sort of social environment you’re looking for. Or maybe you can start a brand new scientific revolution.